|period||Middle Kamakura (ca. 1264)|
|designation||NBTHK Juyo Token Tachi|
|nakago nagasa||21.6 cm|
|nakago sori||0.2 cm|
The Fukuoka-Ichimonji school of which the founder is Norimune, occurred at the beginning of the Kamakura period. Then the master smiths Yoshifusa, Sukezane, Norifusa and Yoshihira became to play a conspicuous role of the school entering the middle of the Kamakura Period.
Amongst the smiths of the Fukuoka-Ichimonji school, Yoshifusa, Sukezane and Norifusa are superior to other smiths of the school in skill and show conspicuous characteristics in their works. Yoshifusa tempers gorgeous choji-midare mixed with fukuro-choji and squarish midare. Sukezane demonstrates a powerful workmanship emphasizing nie in the ji and ha. Norifusa forges very clear jigane and it looks powerful then tempers choji in smaller pattern. NBTHK Token Bijutsu
In the mid-Kamakura period, master smiths such as Yoshifusa, Sukezane, and Norifusa infused the highest level of art into their work. With their high and wide choji-midare hamon, the school’s reputation became established. Their hamon are very distinctive and appreciated, and were very distinctive when compared with Ko-Ichimonji work. The style of the hamon is dazzling and gorgeous, very beautiful and spectacular, and the style was supposed to have been started either by accident, or slowly and deliberately through efforts to produce a practical, beautiful and effective sword. Ishii Akira, NBTHK Token Bijutsu
The name of the Ichimonji school comes from the habit developed by the early Fukuoka-Ichimonji smiths of signing their blades with the single character “ichi” (一), indicating the numeral “one.” Perhaps its bold meaning and intention remains rather obvious seven centuries later as human nature does not change that much, though times do.
Mr. Iwazaki Kosuke explains the Ichi of Ichimonji as Muteki, meaning “No enemy”, and this is not the name of a swordsmith, but is said to be a presentation name for a sword. It is not hard to imagine the feeling of strength when gazing down upon a battlefield with a Muteki sword in one’s sash. Fujishiro Yoshio
The intention of muteki —
no enemy — is that no blade, and no warrior, could ever hope to stand against the one who would wield an Ichimonji blade.
The Ichimonji school is composed of several branches, spanning different periods of time and residing in different areas of Bizen province. The name of Ichimonji is synonymous with the peak of the Bizen tradition, and their work in flamboyant choji midare with utsuri is unmissable and distinct in the history of the Japanese sword. Coming first were the Ko-Ichimonji smiths in the late Heian and early Kamakura, followed by Fukuoka-Ichimonji and then Katayama in the middle Kamakura, then Yoshioka and Iwato-Ichimonji in the late Kamakura to end of the Nanbokucho. As well, there is Kamakura Ichimonji, transplanted from Bizen to Soshu at the order of the Shogun in the middle Kamakura period.
Early Fukuoka-Ichimonji works exhibit nie-deki which is inherited from its origins in Ko-Bizen. The style was developed during the period of the Go-ban Kaji and spread to influence swordsmiths as far away as Yamashiro province. Later would shift to nioi-deki which is heat hardened at a lower temperature, and is thought to be a development which allowed the Ichimonji swords to remain tough while taking on a large amount of hardened material as can be observed in their hamon which became increasingly flamboyant through the years.
At the beginning period of Ichimonji, the hamon was ko-midare with nie, and was like that of early Bizen. The exuberant choji of Ichimonji was something which was achieved with the Goban Kaji of ex-Emperor Gotoba as the center. For this reason, the point that they held extremely advanced technology compared to other swordsmiths cannot be denied, and needless to say, the choji of Osafune Mitsutada and Hatakeda Moriie and such were received and continued from this Ichimonji, and this can also be seen in the works of the Yamashiro swordsmiths of the same era, such as Kunitsuna, Sadatoshi, and Kunitoshi. Fujishiro Yoshio
The Nihonto Koza waxes quite poetic when describing the works of Fukuoka-Ichimonji. I think it requires no comment to clarify the author's feelings on the quality of the works of this school.
As for the juka choji of FUKUOKA ICHIMONJI they reached a magnificent region that they alone have traversed in all times in this skill, and the large pattern choji ha which is applied till it becomes stripes, along with the kage utsuri which is like mist, is of unparalleled beauty, like the double petalled sakura that is kissed by the rising sun.
In spite of the high fame this hamon has received, most Ichimonji works are not so flamboyant. The works of the Ko-Ichimonji smiths resemble quiet style Ko-Bizen. Since the Ko-Ichimonji seem to have resided in Fukuoka, this use of the name Fukuoka tends to be synonymous with the middle Kamakura flamboyant works of the school as this development is the dividing line in time. Mostly though after this middle period works became more subdued, and in theory this is due to the difficulty of maintaining a sword that won't break while covering the blade mostly with hardened martensite which is what we get with a florid hamon. With Soshu as well we see hitatsura rise up and then go away fairly quickly, possibly for similar reasons. Osafune has the same development where the works of Mitsutada are carried forward only partway by Nagamitsu before he abandons his father's hamon and begins working in smaller choji midare or consciously cutting the heads off of the choji with an overlay of suguba in order to limit the amount of hardened material in the blade. So while these works done in more quiet style may be less visibly impressive to us as art collectors, we need to view this not as a loss of technique or ability but as an ongoing attempt to perfect the function of the Bizen sword.
Gotoba and the Ichimonji
In the year 1208 the cloistered Emperor Gotoba summoned the finest swordsmiths in the land to his place of exile and proceeded to take teachings from them. It is this process which begins the revolution of style and craftsmanship that made the Kamakura period the golden age of swords.
The first group of teachers were 13 smiths from three regions of Japan. Three smiths from Yamashiro Awataguchi, three from Bitchu Aoe, and seven smiths from Bizen Fukuoka:
- Fukuoka-Ichimonji Norimune
- Fukuoka-Ichimonji Nobufusa
- Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukemune
- Fukuoka-Ichimonji Muneyoshi
- Fukuoka-Ichimonji Yukikuni
- Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukenari
- Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukenobu
The majority of Gotoba's teachers coming from Fukuoka-Ichimonji begins the long held belief of dominance of Bizen blades and the reverence of Fukuoka-Ichimonji in the history of the Japanese Sword.
Spread of the Ichimonji
Some smiths of Fukuoka-Ichimonji would sign only with the single
ichi character, while others would add the
ichi above their name. Some never used it, and other works were handed down ubu but with no signature at all. There is some difference between these
ichi-only swords and those that bear mei ji, so it is likely that there is some kind of division between them.
It was not until after the Ichimonji smiths spread from Fukuoka past the middle of the Kamakura period that some smiths would place the town in front of their name. While the Yoshioka smiths often added Yoshioka (吉岡) to their signatures, in Fukuoka there is only one smith, Naganori (Einin, 1298-1299), who added Fukuoka (福岡) to his signature.
It is generally thought that the Yoshioka group is thought to be pre-eminent in the latter part of the Kamakura period, there is overlap in time and no firm agreement over where the majority of Ichimonji smiths resided. Because of this, some swords will gain attributions only to Ichimonji, while others with more strong stylistic cues can be attributed closer to their work centers.
The Ichimonji would dominate the creation of swords in Bizen, spreading to Katayama and Iwato, as well as Yoshioka above. Sukezane of Fukuoka would also leave Bizen entirely for Sagami at the command of the Shogun, and be called Kamakura Ichimonji for the swords he made there.
After the rise of the Ko-Osafune kaji in the middle Kamakura period who began by emulating the Fukuoka-Ichimonji style, the Ichimonji would no longer be standing alone at the center of the Bizen tradition. Because Osafune would become so dominant, there is sometimes a misconception that the Ichimonji smiths were no longer active after the Kamakura period. They did flourish into the Nanbokucho period but would at this time become overshadowed by Osafune, which became the main line of Bizen development going forward.
There is some discrepancy between authors because the history of the spread of the Ichimonji smiths is a bit confusing. There is a grey area between when Ko-Ichimonji stops and Fukuoka-Ichimonji begins as it is the same group in the same place, and mostly reflects a style change. This is important to keep in mind when reading books as sometimes Ko-Ichimonji smiths are indicated as Fukuoka-Ichimonji smiths. We can most likely summarize the founders of the various branches as such:
- First Fukuoka Generation: Ko-Ichimonji/Fukuoka-Ichimonji Sukefusa
- Second Fukuoka Generation: Yoshifusa, Norifusa, Sukezane
- Sukezane moves and starts Kamakura group
- Norifusa moves and starts Katayama group
- Norifusa's son-in-law Sukeyoshi moves and starts Yoshioka group
- Sukeyoshi's student Yoshiuji starts Iwato group
The most elegant and strong hamon in all of Japan is in the works of the three smiths, Yoshifusa of Bizen Fukuoka Ichimonji, the Norifusa who is referred to asKatayama Ichimonji, and this Sukezane [Kamakura-Ichimonji]. Nihonto Koza
Norifusa is one of the most important Ichimonji smiths, and has made two swords which are ranked at Kokuho (National Treasure). There was another in the Emperor's collection which was removed by the Japanese Government after the war (likely to prevent it from the rampant looting of swords going on at the time by US occupation forces). It was placed in the Ueno Museum and has the name
Ima Aranami which has been used several times on Ichimonji blades.
Among the Fukuoka-Ichimonji smiths, Yoshifusa, Sukezane and Norifusa have the most outstanding skills and represent this school. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu
Norifusa was likely born around 1200 AD and the midpoint of his work term is the Kencho era (approx. 1249). He has the personal name of Takazu Umanosuke which is unusual to know given how far back in time he was working. During his time period he is ranked along with Yoshifusa and Sukezane as one of the three most important Ichimonji smiths. According to several references they were brothers: Yoshifusa was the oldest and Sukezane the youngest according to Yamanaka's writing, which is based on the Honami documents.
In the Fukuoka-Ichimonji school, the generation immediately following Sukemune is represented by Yoshifusa, Norifusa and Sukezane, who are sons of Sukefusa. Honma Junji, Great Masterpieces of Japanese Art Swords
The lineage as sons of Sukefusa is also confirmed in the Complete Manual of the old Sword which is an old Edo period book of unknown authorship. It was translated in 1905 into English by someone who was only passingly familiar with swords, and as such, some of the terms were not transliterated correctly and it reads rather rustically.
Norifusa, in the era of Kenpo; son of Sukefusa; lived in Takatsu; calledTakagama Umanojo. Blade much curved; ridge thick; iori common; regular woody texture; stuff-iron with a clear hard back;Chojiboth large and small; irregularfeetwhich may be seen on the blade, combined with a brilliantsmall midare.E. W. Mumford (translator), The Complete Manual of the Old Sword
At some point both, Norifusa and Sukezane would leave Fukuoka to form satellite schools. Sukezane founded the Kamakura kaji which would later develop into the Soshu tradition. Norifusa would found the Katayama branch school of Ichimonji. The smiths that would follow in Norifusa's footsteps are all masters: Sanetoshi, Yorizane, Noritsune, Norizane, Yasunori and Yasuhiro are among the most important names.
As for location, Katayama was for a long time thought to be in Bitchu province so many books still continue to quote this as a fact. In the later parts of the 1900s this investigation was taken up and Katayama was not located in Bitchu but a Katayama village was found not too far away from Fukuoka. So the most recent conclusion is that Katayama is really a closely related branch of Fukuoka and geographically close rather than in Bitchu province. This is repeated a few times in the Token Bijutsu magazine and on individual Juyo setsumei so should be taken as the strongest held theory currently.
Another data point in this is that Sanetoshi put Osafune on some of his signatures, and he was the son in law of Norifusa. This seems to imply again that Katayama is in Bizen and it may be possible that they were absorbed into the Osafune group as was the Hatakeda school of smiths. Ietsugu working around 1368 is said by Fujishiro to be in the Katayama-Ichimonji group, but he signed with Bitchu province. This makes for a couple possibilities, which is that the Katayama school branched and eventually did end up in Bitchu, or that Ietsugu is an Aoe school smith and his use of saka choji mixed him into the Katayama-Ichimonji group in sword texts. The Nihonto Koza indicates that these Bitchu Katayama works should simply be called Katayama, separate from the Katayama-Ichimonji.
Since Norifusa later moved to a place called Katayama, he is also known as Katayama-Ichimonji. It should be mentioned in this connection that the place called Katayama was once considered to be located in Bitchu Province. It has recently been pointed out with validity that the locality is more likely the one near Fukuoka within Bizen Province. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu
All of these Bizen and Bitchu forges are located close to the Yoshii river, and with a motorcycle you could probably visit all of them in one day without much fuss. Since sword making has existed around this river for many centuries, even by the time of the Kamakura period, smiths would have used up local resources such as the best iron sand and the best trees for charcoal and there would have been a need for expansion to other locations both to consume resources at a rate they can be reproduced (in the case of trees) or simply to seek out better resources when local ones were exhausted. This may have necessitated simple moves of 5 or 10 km to find a fresh patch of whatever you needed, and be close to it.
Over Norifusa's work period his signature evolved, and older books considered there to be at least two Norifusa, the Fukuoka-Ichimonji smith and the Katayama-Ichimonji smith but they are now thought to be the same maker. Especially as the location of Katayama is understood to be in Bizen near Fukuoka rather than in Bitchu, which was the point of confusion in older studies. Most of the time these two smiths theories have been united by modern or recent sword study, as the daimyo collections became unlocked and dispersed and open to examination by sword experts. The oldest works of Yoshifusa looks more like Ko-Bizen, before he lead the revolution into flamboyant hamon. Norifusa being younger than Yoshifusa may have begun with flamboyant hamon and then after his move to Katayama he lead an evolution away from this style into smaller choji. As above, this was later emulated by Nagamitsu in Osafune and as well we can see it in Hatakeda Sanemori's generally reduced hamon compared to his father Moriie.
The foremost characteristic of Norifusa is the bright and clear jihada giving the steel a firm appearance. Among those which have particularly outstanding ji-nie, ji-utsuri is somewhat subdued. Compared with Sukezane and Yoshifusa, Norifusa's choji-hamon tends to be more compact. The ashi in his hamon are short, and the midare on the whole is somewhat slanting. NBTHK English Token Bijutsu
The Katayama-Ichimonji school is equally skilled as Fukuoka (especially as their members overlap) but these smiths also developed a specific kind of slanting (saka) choji midare which is usually used as a marker in distinguishing their work from the Fukuoka branch. This trait was later adopted by Nanbokucho era Aoe smiths in some of their work. As with Sukezane, who left Fukuoka to go to Kamakura and obtained the nickname Kamakura-Ichimonji, sometimes Norifusa himself is referred to as Katayama-Ichimonji so some care is needed when this name is used to understand if it is in a school or individual context.
Norifusa's work was held in very high regard by the Edo period elite. One of the two Kokuho Norifusa was a tachi owned by the Tokugawa Shoguns themselves. Of extant blades, two came from the powerful Ikeda clan's collection, one from the Honda, the Ii, two from the Matsudaira, and three from the Shoguns themselves. It shows the difficulty of obtaining one if they tend to migrate up to the Shogunate. Like with Yoshifusa, sometimes strategic disfiguring of the signature allowed a house to keep an example as
imperfect which otherwise may have been an obligation to hand over to the Shogunate. In the case of Yoshifusa, mei have been cut vertically in half and with Norifusa and other important smiths, sometimes half of the mei is cut deliberately in order to both mar the blades to prevent predation from higher ranked masters and to continue to make it clear who the owner was. This is an unfortunate situation but it was indeed a reaction that families took in order to protect their treasures from being an obligated
gift to a visiting Shogun or higher ranked daimyo.
When we see these mei cut like this in the modern period we tend to throw our hands up and scream whyyyyyy... but this is the real answer. Mei can be preserved if the owner wishes and in some cases, maybe the mei was deliberately lost in order to prevent gift-predation, or as mentioned cut vertically by added bohi which have no reason to do so, or to cut 1 cm off of a nakago in order to remove one character and leave the first. Or in a longer mei just cut it in half to remove the smith's name but leave his province and signature style so it can be clear to whom to attribute the smith.
In the case of the Kokuho Norifusa above, the bottom half of the fusa character is similarly cut, possibly again to disfigure it but in that case it didn't work as the blade ended up with the Shogun anyway.
In terms of remaining blades left to us, those signed works of Norifusa are not too common. In terms of what we have there are:
- 25 (15 signed) that the NBTHK accepted at Juyo and Tokuju. 9 of those 25 are now Tokuju (5 of those are signed). One of these in the Juyo count is a mumei katana that went on to pass Tokuju as well, but was re-attributed to the Katayama-Ichimonji school. So that reduces the overall count to 24 that the NBTHK has accepted as works of Norifusa.
- 7 Juyo Bijutsuhin (6 signed)
- 2 Kokuho (1 signed)
So in total we have only 34 blades left to us by Norifusa, and 22 of them have signatures or partial signatures on them. This makes his work very rare.
Juyo Token Ichimonji Norifusa Tachi
This Norifusa tachi is one of the later works of the smith. Half of the mei was cut at the bottom but thankfully the upper part remains and it conforms perfectly with his known mei. In style it is relatively calm for the smith, and this makes us think it is closer to Ko-Ichimonji style. But as the experts point out above the highlight of Norifusa is in the jihada and as we know the great flamboyance of the middle Kamakura period did not last too long and gave way to quieter works in Osafune and in the various Ichimonji forges.
This blade does not disappoint either way, the hamon is gorgeous and made with great skill. The highlight of the blade is the utsuri which is super bright and vibrant. As of late I have taken a particular joy in blades with great utsuri as they are very hard to find and it is of course the primary distinctive Bizen feature. Smaller dimensioned hamon allows for this kind of activity to stand out in the jihada and this is possibly one of the design choices that influenced Bizen smiths in their move to smaller dimensioned hamon. Moving this sword through the light reveals depth and patterns in the utsuri, and though the utsuri shows strongly in the photos, with two eyes and three dimensions it is truly a wonderful experience.
On top of this, the sword bears kirikomi (cut from another sword) showing it was used to fight, and was not a decorative present that was put on a shelf. This blade was only shortened about 12-15 cm or so, and as a result the blade retains much of the original beautiful sugata.
The nakago was perfectly finished when this blade was shortened. This kind of care was seen on the earlier suriage work of the Muromachi period. When those suriage jobs were originally done, the swordsmith shortening the blade made an attempt to make the new nakago look like a well crafted and finished original work. As time went on, these shortenings cut some corners by not refinishing the straight cut along the bottom of the nakago, and in some cases not reworking the nakago to have any nice aesthetics. The patina on both sides also reflects an old shortening job. The original surface of the nakago is still visible on the mei side, making it clear that it wasn't shortened that much (about half of the original nakago is still in place).
There are some small condition issues on the blade, some minor kitae ware are in it and a bit of weak jihada in the monouchi. All of this is in keeping and normal for a middle Kamakura sword nearing 800 years of age.
It's not clear which daimyo owned this blade, though it was certainly a daimyo possession. This blade was located in the USA about 25 years ago and polished by none other than Fujishiro Matsuo, the Living National Treasure sword polisher. Since people generally forget to pass this information on it becomes difficult to know and establish some history on polish. This blade was kept under wraps for a very long time and due to some pure luck fell into my lap.
It retains a good length and the shape is gorgeous. The blade is wide at the machi and tapers significantly, making for a beautiful tachi sugata with a deep curve. There are some rough spots coming through in the jihada in the upper monouchi, however I take care to point out to people the significant age of the piece and the rarity and importance of this smith. However, the jihada and hamon are bright and clear, as is mentioned in the sayagaki and the NBTHK setsumei in the Juyo paper, which are key elements of this smith's work and make this sword a beauty to behold.
After this sword was found, it was among the last swords polished by Fujishiro Matsuo, the Ningen Kokuho (Living National Treasure) sword polisher. Since then it has been under wraps. It's a very important blade and a significant chance to own a master smith and school founder, known to all sword students. Opportunities like this do not come often to have a signed work by a National Treasure class koto swordsmith.
Lastly there is a high class, two piece, solid gold habaki made for this sword in the modern era. It weighs 41 grams (over one troy ounce) and well reflects the importance of the blade and the appreciation in which it is held. Today these cost $3,500 to $4,500 to make.
Juyo Token Tachi
Appointed on the 30th of October, 1997
Tachi, mei: Nori (rest cut off), Ichimonji Norifusa
shinogi-zukuri, iori-mune, relatively wide mihaba, normal kasane, deep sori, chū-kissaki
rather standing-out itame that features ji-nie, chikei, and a midare-utsuri
chōji in nioi-deki with ko-nie and a bright and clear nioiguchi that is mixed with gunome, ko-notare, sunagashi, and kinsuji whose elements are overall rather small dimensioned
sugu with a brief kaeri, almost running out as yakitsume
on both sides a bōhi that runs as kaki-nagashi into the tang
suriage, kurijiri, the old yasurime are indiscernible, the new yasurime are sujikai, three mekugi-ana, the haki-omote side retains below of the third mekugi-ana and towards the tip of the tang the character for Nori, the rest has been cut off
Norifusa (則房) was with Sukezane (助真) and Yoshifusa (吉房) one of the most representative mid-Kamakura period Ichimonji School masters who are known for hardening in a flamboyant chōji-midare. Later in his career he moved to Katayama (片山) and is therefore also referred to as Katayama-Ichimonji. Norifusa signed in different styles and also his workmanship is varied thus it is conceivable that several generations were active using that name. In the past it was assumed that Katayama was the name of a place in Bitchū province but recently the theory was forwarded that the name actually refers to an area that is close to Fukuoka in Bizen province, although this matter needs further study.
Extant signed Norifusa works are limited to tachi but he was praised for his naginata in the past. Accordingly, many unsigned such works are extant which are attributed to Norifusa. The characteristic features of Norifusa are a very clear jigane, a chōji-midare whose elements are somewhat smaller dimensioned as seen with Sukezane and Yoshifusa, slanting midare sections, and fine ashi within the ha.
Despite being suriage, this blade retains a powerful sugata featuring a relatively wide mihaba, a deep sori, and a chū-kissaki. A prominent midare-utsuri appears in the ji and the hamon is a rather small dimensioned chōji-midare. Due to the shortening, all of the mei except for the character for Nori is lost but the signature style attributes the work unmistakably to Norifusa. Apart from that, the somewhat calm midareba and the bright and clear jiba speak for the hand of Norifusa as well.
This sword bears an extensive inscription (sayagaki) by Tanobe Michihiro sensei. He is the retired former head researcher of the Nippon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK).
- 第四十三回重要刀剣指定品Dai yonjūsan-kai jūyō-tōken shitei-hinDesignated as jūyō-tōken at the 43rd jūyō shinsa
- 備前國片山一文字則房Bizen no Kuni Katayama-Ichimonji NorifusaKatayama-Ichimonji Norifusa from Bizen Province
- 磨上ゲテ則ノ字残在セリSuriagete Nori no ji zanzai-seri.The blade is shortened but retains the character for
- 同工ノ作域中稍穏健ナル出来口ヲ示シ蓋シ晩年ノ所作ナランDōkō no saku’iki-chū yaya onken-nari dekiguchi o shimeshi. Kedeshi bannen no shosa naran.The relatively calm interpretation identifies it as a work from the smith’s later years.
- 乱映ヲ鮮明ニ表ハス精妙デ冴ヘル肌合ニ小模様ナガラ闊達ナ丁子主調ノ乱ヲ焼キ匂口ガ明ルク冴ヘ同工ノ特色ヲ顕現スル優品也Midare-utsuri o senmei ni arawasu seimyō de saeru hada-ai ni ko-moyō nagara kattatsu na chōji chushō no midare o yaki nioiguchi ga akaruki sae dōkō no tokushoku o kengen-suru yūhin nari.The blade shows a prominent midare-utsuri, an exquisite and clear forging structure, and, although overall rather small dimensioned, a hardening in a vivid chōji-based midareba with a bright and clear nioiguchi and so we clearly recognize in this masterwork the characteristic features of this smith.
- 長弐尺参寸六分Nagasa 2 shaku 3 sun 6 buBlade length 71.5 cm
- 時在己亥弥生戌深山識「花押」Jizai tsuchinoto-i yayoi Tanzan shirusu + kaōWritten by Tanzan (pen name of Tanobe Michihiro) in the third month of the year of the boar of this era (2019) + monogram